The Impresario (part fourteen)
“Now you recall I had been telling you
How the solicitations of my own Gaspard
Were not to be refused…I, most readily
Admitting everything, called down, mon frère
Heaven’s wrath on my own head
Did I omit a word or tell a lie
For as against the scaffold, this smiting seemed fair bargain
Alas, Our Father, who each day
Must hear a thousand dire prayers
Left this matter of my condemnation
In the hands of men
But I will tell you all that by and by.
I have been deputized, my friend—
Let me offer then, of chances, three
The baron would have you ask of our Most Reverend Lord B
To grant the trial by ordeal.
True, of all tosses, only this
Exonerates, and the advocate’s task is to attempt it.
And only then, if the ordeal be by water.
Innocence in death is something; indeed, it may be much…”
“Pierre, you make me tired.”
“Yes,” Regalus seconds the prisoner, “be quiet. And look, Pierre,
if there is any of that joint seems unbefouled.”
“No, Regalus, I want no food. Pierre, no consolation, no advice.”
He touches fingers to a swollen eye. “No, please, I am content with it.”
“You’ll hang…” This is offered testingly; the prisoner says again:
“Please. Regalus, you know I am to die. Therefore, you will no longer
Defy my wish to see you safe. Pierre…”
Pierre sees her chin quiver, and a light
Beyond refute that of defiance
Glint as a tear spills from her eye.
He says, “No, hear me, friend. You are to die
for some heretical offense, but…do you call yourself an unbeliever?”
The prisoner smiles so far as he is able,
And his smile is sour and sad.
“Yes, you remind me. I have only some short time ago
been branded with an oath.
My faith is perfect. Only I have a rite yet to receive…they may
Pierre peers at him. “Wit, however, too, is combat.
You see where I am going.”
The prisoner sighs. Pierre persists.
“You have some fight in you.
Take the seer’s counsel, then—refuse the scaffold.
This rule by priests may nothing mean to one not ruled by God;
Yet the spark that meekly snuffs itself gives credence
To unholy law. Further,” he lifts a halting hand,
“we’ll weigh the other case.
If in piety do you hold regard for life, a gift no mortal can bestow;
Then you must try, and try again, and try unto the last.”
(2017, Stephanie Foster)